KFS Draft Watch: Zion Williamson Game 1 Report

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Spencer Pearlman continues our Knicks Film School Draft Watch with a breakdown of Zion Williamson’s first game.


Editor’s note – I want to apologize for the delay. I have had issues with Synergy over the last few days and getting the video has been difficult. I am still having some issues, but appear to have found at least some sort of workaround for the time being. Without more explanation, let’s dive into the film.

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The Good 

Ability to Get Into the Paint

  • Zion’s ability to get into the paint at his size (6’6, 283) is unparalleled in college basketball. Aside from the obvious strength he has, his first step is fantastic. When this is coupled with his passing ability, which I will show a bit of below, you have a special playmaking PF who can finish through you and over you. He uses his size/strength, quick first step, and a quick cross to get into the paint when he wants.

Face Up / Finishing in the Paint

  • As one can expect, when you are the strongest player on the court, chances are you can overpower people and finish with authority at the rim. However, Zion is more than just a power finisher – his hands and touch around the rim are soft. I know, I know … Zion is still left hand dominant. However, unlike Bagley, who would contort his body to avoid his right hand, we didn’t see that with Zion against Kentucky. In fact, he actually showed a straight line drive with his right (!) hand. So, even though he should continue to work on his right hand and learn to become comfortable with it, I’m not worried.
  • Zion’s ability to face up and use the pick to get into the paint or simply beat his man off the dribble is impressive for any player, let alone someone his size. He did a nice job showcasing that ability against Kentucky, even though Duke did not use him very often in that role. As the season progresses, I fully expect him to be initiating a bit more of the offense – especially if Duke plays him at the 5.

Transition

  • Even though we only got to see it a few times, anyone who has seen Zion’s YouTube tapes, or any of his games in the past, knows he’s a menace in transition. He not only gets started on his break pretty quickly (solid burst, great burst for his size), but he picks up speed as he’s going. Zion lives for highlight dunks, and fans obviously react accordingly, so his transition ability as a finisher AND as a passer will be something to watch going forward.
  • As you see in the clips, he is also a great passer in transition. Those two bounce passes … were … sheesh. Grab and go is going to be a pretty big skill for him this year, and especially next year. His ability to rise above to grab the rebound and push hard on the break, while making the correct decision in transition is special for a PF.

Scoring in Paint / Postups

  • Even though his post-up moves are not advanced by any means, they are effective – which should not come as a surprise given his strength and quickness combination. He really just does a good job finding the open room and reading where the defense is playing him. In the third clip, they’re playing him high so he feels the weight and spins low. In the first clip, he uses a shoulder fake to freeze Keldon and go middle. In the second one, which admittedly is pushing the “post up” category a bit far, he simply attacks off the fake hard, sees the defense coming, keeps his pivot down, and reverses away from the help. So, even though his moves themselves were not spectacular in any way against Kentucky, they were effective – this is all that matters.

Shooting?

  • I put a question mark next to this one, because he took two jumpers during the game and made them both. I’m not calling this a strength because a) it’s not, at the moment; and b) a two shot sample size is nothing. However, I did like how he took the three and made the defense pay attention to him on the perimeter a little more than they’d like, and I also liked his off-the-dribble jumper, which actually looks more fluid to me from a form perspective. Even though he still needs work on his form (FTs look Dwight-esque with the flick and non-full extension on the release – watch where he releases it), the fact that he’s taking them shows me that he’s confident in taking them. Further to that point, he took the three without any hesitation and it was his first attempt as a collegiate athlete, which also shows confidence in my eyes. Teams are going to play him for the drive, as they should. If Zion is able to hit spot up threes at a respectable clip, his stock rises and Duke’s March Madness potential does as well.
  • I put his FTs here, too, just to get a better look at his shooting form.

Passing

  • Just as above with face-up, we only saw flashes against Kentucky. Two of the passes were BEAUTIFUL bounce passes and one was an easy read to find the open man underneath after facing up. The third clip is questionable because of the spin into the double (he loves that spin move), but the vision is there so I kept it.

Drawing Fouls

  • Defenses know it’s better to take their chances fouling him and making him live at the FT line vs giving up a finish in the paint, even if contested. I think his FT rate will be somewhere around 0.55-.060 throughout the season and average around 8 FT attempts a game.

The Bad

Rim Protection

  • This is where Zion’s lack of length hurts. Yes, his extreme burst will help him contest shots around the rim and on the perimeter, but when he’s playing against bigger players who are also great athletes, he will likely be exposed. In the first clip, he was later on his rotation than you’d like, but his lack of length really hurt him here. The second clip was a bad rotation. He’s already undersized from a length perspective, so his rotations need to be crisp (they were closer in the second clip, but he was still in poor position and rotated a bit slowly).

Forcing Some Shots / Not Seeing Full Court

  • Defenses will collapse on Zion both in the post and when he’s facing up. This means, there will be open passes for him to make. He needs to work on getting to his spot AND reading the defenses simultaneously, or at least projecting where the defense will be coming from.

Miscellaneous

  • He had a closeout here and there that made me scratch my head (late, footwork), but this can be worked on by stressing technique and by stressing on the importance of simply getting out to shooters.
  • There were a few possessions throughout the game on defense where you saw some flashes of the quickness that scouts like to see from bigs. However, some of that is projection based on him continuing to lose weight. Defensive IQ is a continued work in progress as it is with almost all players his age, so you should look for flashes – he has those.
  • His athleticism is scary good. He’s quick laterally, but not elite in that area – however, he is an elite vertical athlete. I think the lateral quickness should come as he continues to lose weight, but that’s a projection at this point.
  • Zion’s crossover is VERY quick and his face-up ability will be more apparent at the next level with more spacing and a clearer lane. Add that with his quick first step which opens up a jab series, and his face-up projection at the next level is special.
  • He apparently got to Duke and weighed in at 283, which is heavy – that would be the second heaviest player in the NBA behind Boban. He is apparently in the low to mid 270s now, but I want to see that number get to the 250s. If possible, I’d love to see him in the low 250s … but that might be tough. If not that, then the 250s – low 260s is probably a comfortable weight for him. He’s very strong with little fat, so he’s not holding much “bad weight.” However, weight is weight and could lead to lower body issues in the future. **Key word, COULD. While he has had rest in HS/AAU because of soreness, he has had no major lower body injury. So, to the people who say he’s going to get injured, because you clearly have some insight into future events, if you could please DM me the lotto numbers on Twitter, I’d be forever grateful!

I leave this scouting report on this note. Enjoy watching Zion fly through the sky in tune with “I Believe I Can Fly.” (SOUND ON!)